AS the earliest suspicion of dawn appeared on Sunday morning, Huck came groping up the hill and rapped gently at the old Welshman's door. The inmates were asleep, but it was a sleep that was set on a hair-trigger, on account of the exciting episode of the night. A call came from a window:
Huck's scared voice answered in a low tone:
"Please let me in! It's only Huck Finn!"
"It's a name that can open this door night or day, lad! — and welcome!"
These were strange words to the vagabond boy's ears, and the pleasantest he had ever heard. He could not recollect that the closing word had ever been applied in his case before. The door was quickly unlocked, and he entered. Huck was given a seat and the old man and his brace of tall sons speedily dressed themselves.
"Now, my boy, I hope you're good and hungry, because breakfast will be ready as soon as the sun's up, and we'll have a piping hot one, too — make yourself easy about that! I and the boys hoped you'd turn up and stop here last night."
"I was awful scared," said Huck, "and I run. I took out when the pistols went off, and I didn't stop for three mile. I've come now becuz I wanted to know about it, you know; and I come before daylight becuz I didn't want to run across them devils, even if they was dead."
"Well, poor chap, you do look as if you'd had a hard night of it — but there's a bed here for you when you've had your breakfast. No, they ain't dead, lad — we are sorry enough for that. You see we knew right where to put our hands on them, by your description; so we crept along on tiptoe till we got within fifteen feet of them — dark as a cellar that sumach path was — and just then I found I was going to sneeze. It was the meanest kind of luck! I tried to keep it back, but no use — 'twas bound to come, and it did come! I was in the lead with my pistol raised, and when the sneeze started those scoundrels a-rustling to get out of the path, I sung out, 'Fire boys!' and blazed away at the place where the rustling was. So did the boys. But they were off in a jiffy, those villains, and we after them, down through the woods. I judge we never touched them. They fired a shot apiece as they started, but their bullets whizzed by and didn't do us any harm. As soon as we lost the sound of their feet we quit chasing, and went down and stirred up the constables. They got a posse together, and went off to guard the river bank, and as soon as it is light the sheriff and a gang are going to beat up the woods. My boys will be with them presently. I wish we had some sort of description of those rascals — 'twould help a good deal. But you couldn't see what they were like, in the dark, lad, I suppose?"
"Oh yes; I saw them down-town and follered them."
"Splendid! Describe them — describe them, my boy!"
"One's the old deaf and dumb Spaniard that's ben around here once or twice, and t'other's a mean-looking, ragged — "
"That's enough, lad, we know the men! Happened on them in the woods back of the widow's one day, and they slunk away. Off with you, boys, and tell the sheriff — get your breakfast to-morrow morning!"
The Welshman's sons departed at once. As they were leaving the room Huck sprang up and exclaimed:
"Oh, please don't tell ANYbody it was me that blowed on them! Oh, please!"
"All right if you say it, Huck, but you ought to have the credit of what you did."
"Oh no, no! Please don't tell!"
When the young men were gone, the old Welshman said:
"They won't tell — and I won't. But why don't you want it known?"
Huck would not explain, further than to say that he already knew too much about one of those men and would not have the man know that he knew anything against him for the whole world — he would be killed for knowing it, sure.
The old man promised secrecy once more, and said:
"How did you come to follow these fellows, lad? Were they looking suspicious?"
Huck was silent while he framed a duly cautious reply. Then he said:
"Well, you see, I'm a kind of a hard lot, — least everybody says so, and I don't see nothing agin it — and sometimes I can't sleep much, on account of thinking about it and sort of trying to strike out a new way of doing. That was the way of it last night. I couldn't sleep, and so I come along up-street 'bout midnight, a-turning it all over, and when I got to that old shackly brick store by the Temperance Tavern, I backed up agin the wall to have another think. Well, just then along comes these two chaps slipping along close by me, with something under their arm, and I reckoned they'd stole it. One was a-smoking, and t'other one wanted a light; so they stopped right before me and the cigars lit up their faces and I see that the big one was the deaf and dumb Spaniard, by his white whiskers and the patch on his eye, and t'other one was a rusty, ragged-looking devil."
"Could you see the rags by the light of the cigars?"
This staggered Huck for a moment. Then he said:
"Well, I don't know — but somehow it seems as if I did."
"Then they went on, and you — "
"Follered 'em — yes. That was it. I wanted to see what was up — they sneaked along so. I dogged 'em to the widder's stile, and stood in the dark and heard the ragged one beg for the widder, and the Spaniard swear he'd spile her looks just as I told you and your two — "
"What! The DEAF AND DUMB man said all that!"
Huck had made another terrible mistake! He was trying his best to keep the old man from getting the faintest hint of who the Spaniard might be, and yet his tongue seemed determined to get him into trouble in spite of all he could do. He made several efforts to creep out of his scrape, but the old man's eye was upon him and he made blunder after blunder. Presently the Welshman said:
"My boy, don't be afraid of me. I wouldn't hurt a hair of your head for all the world. No — I'd protect you — I'd protect you. This Spaniard is not deaf and dumb; you've let that slip without intending it; you can't cover that up now. You know something about that Spaniard that you want to keep dark. Now trust me — tell me what it is, and trust me — I won't betray you."
Huck looked into the old man's honest eyes a moment, then bent over and whispered in his ear:
"'Tain't a Spaniard — it's Injun Joe!"
The Welshman almost jumped out of his chair. In a moment he said: